Ethnic Albanians from Kosovo are taking advantage of the impoverishment of Serbs in the south of the country, buying swathes of agricultural land and accommodation from them in what some Serbs fear is a repeat of the “Kosovan scenario,” Sputnik Serbia reported on Tuesday.
A string of towns in southern Serbia have seen an influx of Kosovan Albanians, who since 2010 have bought large amounts of land, houses and apartments in southern Serbia, close to the country’s administrative border with Kosovo.
The Serbian towns most affected by the influx include Nis, Leskovac, Vranje, Kursumlija, Prokuplje and Novi Pazar. By offering inflated prices for property, Kosovan Albanians are able to increase their presence in Serbia’s southern towns, some of the country’s poorest.
In the town of Leskovac, a house with land can be bought for as little as 5,000 euros ($5,585). Sellers are easy to find among the local population, who are keen to migrate to areas with better job prospects.
In Kursumlija ten villages have been deserted by the local population, and many of the former locals replaced by Albanian migrants from Kosovo; in late 2014 Albanians reportedly bought about 50 properties in the area.
In Nis, Serbia’s third largest city, around 1,500 Kosovan Albanians have bought apartments in the last three years. Around 11,000 Kosovan Albanians are believed to have bought property in Nis and its surrounding areas as a whole over the last five years, local sources told Sputnik Serbia.
However, the shady nature of the property deals makes official figures hard to come by since one of the most popular ways to seal the transaction is for hard-up Serbs, many of whom are refugees from Kosovo, to help the newcomers to buy property via a fake loan agreement which obscures the real owner.
In this way, Serbs buy property in their name, using money from Kosovan Albanians; the parties also sign a loan agreement in which the latter lends money, with the property as collateral. When the loan isn’t paid back, the Albanians take control of the property, while the cash-strapped Serb gets a financial reward for their part in the deal.
The situation came to a head in Nis last year, when disgruntled Serbs distributed flyers calling for action to “stop the Albanization of Serbia,” complained about the number of Kosovan Albanian immigrants and asked Serbs to “wake up.”
The leaflet also referred to a criminal case from 2010, when four police officers from Nis were arrested for abetting Kosovan Albanians in obtaining property in the city using fake documents.
Local journalists told Sputnik Serbia that they fear a concerted attempt to spread the administrative border of Kosovo into these southern Serbian regions, amid what they term a “silent occupation” of southern Serbia.